Alberta mom says court unfair to single parents
June 13, 2007
The Canadian Press
EDMONTON (Jun 13, 2007)
An Alberta woman has asked the
Supreme Court of Canada to rule on a case that could
have sweeping implications on the rights of single
parents to make decisions about their families and
The woman, known as Jane Doe, wants
to absolve her common-law husband of legal
obligations to her child and has sought leave to
appeal her case to the high court.
She became pregnant by artificial
insemination with another man's sperm. The
common-law couple signed a pre-parenting agreement
stating that the husband, John Doe, would not be
considered the child's father. Their identities are
protected by a publication ban.
In February, the Alberta Court of
Appeal ruled against the agreement, saying John Doe
will inevitably act in a father's role since he will
be living with the child. The mother contends the
Alberta ruling failed to recognize her charter
rights to make fundamental choices on her child's
"The existence and scope of a
parental liberty right under Section 7 of the
charter is of importance to all families,
particularly those families which may not fall
within the traditional concept of the
one-female-and-one-male-parent family," wrote her
lawyer, Ronald Robinson, in documents filed with the
"The current uncertainty in the law
... impedes the ability of parents, including single
parents by choice, to make decisions on fundamental
importance, and structure their family circumstances
without the threat of state-assisted interference in
Alberta Crown lawyers have filed
documents arguing against having the high court hear
the appeal, which centres on Alberta's Family Law
The Crown contends the case is not
about the constitutional rights of single parents
and that Jane Doe is not a single parent by choice
because she lives with a male partner.
In the Appeal Court ruling in
February, Justice Ronald Berger said the fact that
Jane and John Doe remain together demonstrates his
intention to act in the role of father.
"Can it seriously be contended that
he will ignore the child when it cries? When it
needs to be fed? When it stumbles? When the soother
needs to be replaced? When the diaper needs to be
changed?" Berger asked.
Legal and constitutional experts say
the case could have sweeping implications for
Canadians and they hope the Supreme Court will hear
Brenda Cossman, a family law
professor at the University of Toronto, notes the
2001 census said 1.3 million Canadian families were
single-parent families, with the vast majority
headed by women.
In an affidavit filed in support of
Jane Doe's application, Cossman wrote that the
number of people choosing to act as single parents
is growing, and that more single women between the
ages of 30 to 45 are deciding to have children.
The Alberta ruling creates
significant women's autonomy and equal rights issues
as it assumes women and children economically depend
on the men with whom they live, she said.
In an interview, Cossman said it
comes down to who is in the best position to make
decisions about a child -- a parent or the state.
"The danger is that the court gets
to impose what it thinks is best as opposed to what
the parents themselves think is best. It completely
undermines the idea that individuals should have
some autonomy in decision-making in how they
structure their family," she said.
Gerald Chipeur, a constitutional
lawyer, said Alberta's Family Law Act is too broad
because it allows the state, through the courts, to
intervene in family decisions even if a child's
health, safety or welfare is not at risk.
The Alberta law also treats
traditional two-parent families differently than
single-parent families, which he said is unfair.
Cossman said the Alberta law could
have an impact on court judgments in other
The end result could have a chilling
effect on how single parents live their lives.
"This is a big disincentive to ever
getting into a relationship."